Obsessions: November 30th, 2009

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This week, let’s look at the lonely winter holiday season. It’s not a comfortable view, but it is a fact of life that the Christmas season underscores our loneliness. This is the time of year we’re instinctively driven to curl up with our families and tribes, seeking spiritual and literal warmth and comfort. Loneliness is endemic in cities throughout the holiday season—but I love the spiritual silence of a winter holiday spent apart.

I am a fairly solitary person, so I am often mistaken for lonely, whereas I am actually really just alone. There’s a a huge space between those two states of being. I have my touchpoints with the rest of the world and I take advantage of them. For the most part I prefer to watch and listen but not interact very much.

During the holiday season in Chicago, my partner Su and I are more comfortable because everyone else is away. Both of us grew up in nightclub culture—probably not the most emotionally healthy vantage point for developing minds, but with some years on you, it’s a lovely place to see. We live at night and in the silence, going from bar to club to coffee shop, and the characters we see there are always interesting.

One of my longtime favorites in the older Chicago nightclub set is Brother Tom, an eccentric, jolly Dirty Old Man (and I mean that as a most honorable title) who also records under the name Arcanta. Brother Tom left Chicago some years ago, and has recently resurfaced under the Chateau Thombeau moniker. This is a wonderful romp of camp and kitsch images. Bonus points to those of you who remember Brother Tom from his exploits at Planet Fabulon, now defunct, but always delightful.

The cabbie is one of my favorite lonely urban archetypes, the silent listener who wanders and absorbs our stories. He is our confessor in a grimy, godless, lonely landscape. Our cabbie gives us a line to god while we’re lost in the city, anonymous among a million souls. Sometimes, though, our confessor starts talking, and in his stories we see a somewhat forbidden beauty.

In San Francisco, there is a cabbie tweeting abbreviated character studies from his driver’s seat. His name is Philo Hagen, and he has a rather esteemed lineage in the online community: He is a longtime friend of Manhattan-based writer Choire Sicha. He’s also a collaborator on a project which originally brought a bit of fame to the pair: a now-defunct site called eastwest.nu. Philio also writes for himself at his own eponymous dot-com.

In Chicago, our cabbie is Dmitry Samarov, who writes and draws Chicago as he roams its streets. Dimitry is a trained artist, having attended Parsons and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as well as Indiana University. You can see (and purchase) his work here, read his stories here, and follow him here on Flickr.

Those three folks should operate well as your starting point to wandering the world more alone, if so inclined. A holiday alone is a wonderful way to activate your designer’s mind—the silence allows you space to look for the details in your world, the quiet markers of emotion ordinarily overlooked. Silent Night probably wasn’t composed in a room filled with shrieking children, you know.